The first story of “contribution” I would like to share comes from the Academic world.
On March 27th, three Harvard Business School professors published a paper on the HBR website: Lessons from Italy’s Response to Coronavirus which is a very useful analysis of what happened in Italy at the beginning of the pandemic.
The writers say that “The purpose of this article is to help U.S. and European policymakers at all levels learn from Italy’s mistakes so they can recognize and address the unprecedented challenges presented by the rapidly expanding crisis.”
Today, two weeks after this paper was published, we know that not many countries learned from Italy’s experience and lessons.
In Europe only Greece learnt from Italy’s experience. As of today, Greece has about 1800 infected people and 81 deaths while they had the first positive case on February 27th.
Greece ‘s Premier Mitsotaki says that, a week after February 27th, as soon as they saw what was happening in Italy, they closed all schools and enforced social distancing without waiting to have the very first victim. Greece’s hospitals never experienced any crisis and everything has always been under control.
As policymakers around the world struggle to stop the rapidly escalating coronavirus pandemic, I think the HBR paper is very important and contributes to the pandemic for several reasons:
1)Still many lives can be saved if policymakers understand the lesson that “there is no time to waste”! As of today, there are a few countries in Africa, Latin America and some regions in Europe and US, where despite having a few coronavirus cases, no restrictive social distancing measures have been enforced by their local Governments yet.
Greece is an example of the positive results you can have when your country acts soon.
Until when a vaccine is found, social distancing is the only “medicine” we have.
And I would like to give a message of “hope” to all people who are staying at home. These social distancing measures work! A scientific study said that in Italy we would have had 38,000 more deaths had we not shut down the country (even though we did it too late!).
2)The second reason why this paper is very important is that, like the writers say, “learning is critical so that policymakers do not have to reinvent the wheel each time”.
This paper can be very useful to policymakers and hospitals in Southern Italian regions as well as in other countries as it provides an analysis of two different possible “experiments” or possible answers to the coronavirus pandemic.
The paper compares two approaches taken by Lombardy and Veneto, two neighboring regions, both very wealthy and with very advanced hospital system.
The two regions applied similar approaches in terms of social distancing, but the Veneto region was (and is) much more proactive in terms of containment of the virus.
In Veneto travel restrictions were imposed early on. In terms of tests, many more people got tested and lots of tests were done at home and very early.
Also, just like the Emilia Romagna case, doctors in Veneto understood that in order to flatten the curve, it’s not enough to increase ICUs beds, but it’s also important to have a more systemic approach, increase early treatment and treat Covid patients in their homes.
Therefore, in Veneto hospitals did not become part of the problem.
On the other hand, in Lombardy, hospitals became part of the problem. Regional Government was totally focused on increasing the number of beds in intensive care units, without having enough anesthesiologists. “But in situations like this, strengthening the entire system is essential. Only then can hospitals function properly“.
In Lombardy, people had to go to the hospitals to be tested and treated. Many people were tested too late when they already required hospitalization. Many more healthcare workers got infected and died.
In Lombardy, travel restrictions were not imposed early on and caused lots of mess. While the local government closed all schols, everybody went to the nearby ski slopes that got even more crowded than at Christmas time.
Thousands of people “escaped” from Lombardy to Southern Italy spreading the virus to many other regions.
Some regions in Italy are learning from the Veneto experience and trying to treat patients in their homes.
3)The third reason why this paper is important is that it can help accelerate the diffusion of knowledge so that policy makers are not unprepared (again) in case of a future pandemic.
Scientists, doctors and pharma companies around the world are sharing test results and laboratory analysis in order to accelerate the diffusion of scientific knowledge and have a vaccine as soon as possible.
The HBR paper represents a very useful, initial analysis of two different policy choices that should be shared and integrated by other Professors in order to provide a complete analysis of all other policy choices taken around the world. This analysis can be of help during the pandemic and afterwards.
The pandemic has provided us with the important lesson that no single country can find a vaccine or a solution to the humanitarian, economic and social crisis on its own. Problems must be addressed in a global and shared way.
Universities and the world of research can play a decisive role in terms of analyzing and sharing knowledge so that we are all better prepared and are able to solve and prevent a crisis that is humanitarian, economic and social.
We need a vaccine, but we also need a “pandemic Handbook” for our policymakers so that, now and in the future, they act fast and in a global way.